Australia: Footy coachs unfair dismissal claim gets the boot

Last Updated: 20 March 2017
Article by Sara McRostie

According to the latest census, 19.4% of Australians are involved in formal volunteering and another 11.9% in informal volunteering, such as providing care for a person with a disability, long-term illness or age-related health issues.1

As a general rule, volunteers are not paid for their time or services and are not employees for the purposes of the Fair Work Act 2009 (Cth) (FW Act). This means volunteers are prevented from making claims for unfair dismissal, adverse action and employment entitlements among other things.

The position is less clear if a volunteer is paid an honorarium and the volunteering arrangement has the characteristics of an employment relationship, as was the case in Adam Grinholz v Football Federation Victoria Inc. [2016] 7976.


Mr Grinholz was the head coach of a girls' soccer team for Football Federation Victoria Inc. (the club) during the 2015 and 2016 seasons. For both seasons, Mr Grinholz signed a "voluntary services agreement" with the club, which required that he attend a number of training sessions, matches and competitions during the season as well as liaise with the club's full-time coaches and administrators. Mr Grinholz received a $4000 honorarium under the 2015 agreement that was increased to $6000 under the 2016 agreement. The honorarium was paid in two equal instalments揺alf at the beginning of the season and half at the end of the season.

On 9 October 2016, the club ended Mr Grinholz's coaching role and did not pay him the second instalment of the 2016 honorarium, on the grounds that he had forfeited a game without appropriate approval.

Mr Grinholz made an unfair dismissal application to the Fair Work Commission under s394 of the FW Act. The club objected to the application on the grounds that Mr Grinholz was a volunteer and therefore was not entitled to an unfair dismissal remedy under the FW Act.

Indicia to be considered an employee

The issue in contention was whether or not the essential character of the relationship was one of an employee-employer relationship.

Commissioner Roe considered the employee indicia as identified in Abdalla v Viewdaze Pty Ltd t/a Malta Travel2 and subsequently in Jiang Shen Cai t/a French Accent v Do Rozario.3

The relevant criteria to be considered are whether the:

  • employer exercises, or has the right to exercise, control over the manner in which work is performed, the location and hours of work etc.
  • employee works solely for the employer
  • employer advertises the goods or services of its business
  • employer provides and maintains significant tools or equipment
  • employer can determine what work can be delegated or sub-contracted out and to whom
  • employer has the right to suspend or dismiss the worker
  • employer provides a uniform or business cards
  • employer deducts income tax from remuneration paid
  • employee is paid by periodic wage or salary
  • employer provides paid holidays or sick leave to employees
  • work does not involve a profession, trade or distinct calling on the part of the employee
  • work of the employee creates goodwill or saleable assets for the employer's business
  • employee does not spend a significant portion of their pay on business expenses.

Factors indicating Mr Grinholz was an employee

The commission found the club exercised control over the manner, location and hours of work performed by Mr Grinholz. It also required that he promote the club, wear its uniform, participate in personal development, meet the club's performance criteria, and comply with its code of conduct and other employment policies.

Factors indicating Mr Grinholz was a volunteer

The commissioner found that Mr Grinholz did not receive a periodic wage and the payment to him of an honorarium for expenses was reasonably proportionate to his likely out-of-pocket expenses. Further, no income tax was deducted and payment to Mr Grinholz was by invoice, with his Australian Business Number and goods and services tax not deducted.

Mr Grinholz also did not receive paid annual or personal leave during the engagement.

The essential character of the relationship

Commissioner Roe concluded that Mr Grinholz's circumstances could "point both ways" and did not "yield a clear result".

Given the circumstances, he said the focus should be on whether the essential character of the arrangement is more like that of an employee or volunteer.

In this instance, Commissioner Roe was satisfied the mutual intention of the parties in the signed contracts was clearly to establish a volunteer relationship and not an employee relationship. The level of control over the work performed by Mr Grinholz was not inconsistent with a volunteer relationship and the contract had other legitimate purposes, including protecting the coaching standard, the reputation of the club and the interests of the young people participating in sporting activities.

Had the honorarium been an amount of $20,000 or more, Commissioner Roe said he could not be satisfied that the honorarium was purely to cover expenses. Consequently, Commissioner Roe held Mr Grinholz was a volunteer and dismissed the application.

Lessons learned

The decision reinforces the importance of having a written agreement in clear and certain terms, which sets out the character of the working arrangement. For not-for-profit organisations, this judgment confirms that a strong level of control over the work to be performed and the standard of that work is not necessarily inconsistent with a volunteer relationship, and that the amount of an honorarium should be reasonably proportionate to the volunteer's costs of performing the role.


1 Volunteering Australia. 2015. 'Key facts and statistics about volunteering in Australia', > Research and advocacy > Volunteering facts.
2 (2003) 122 IR 215, [34].
3 (2011) 215 IR 235, [30].

The content of this article is intended to provide a general guide to the subject matter. Specialist advice should be sought about your specific circumstances.

To print this article, all you need is to be registered on

Click to Login as an existing user or Register so you can print this article.

Sara McRostie
Some comments from our readers…
“The articles are extremely timely and highly applicable”
“I often find critical information not available elsewhere”
“As in-house counsel, Mondaq’s service is of great value”

Related Topics
Related Articles
Up-coming Events Search
Font Size:
Mondaq on Twitter
Register for Access and our Free Biweekly Alert for
This service is completely free. Access 250,000 archived articles from 100+ countries and get a personalised email twice a week covering developments (and yes, our lawyers like to think you’ve read our Disclaimer).
Email Address
Company Name
Confirm Password
Mondaq Topics -- Select your Interests
 Law Performance
 Law Practice
 Media & IT
 Real Estate
 Wealth Mgt
Asia Pacific
European Union
Latin America
Middle East
United States
Worldwide Updates
Registration (you must scroll down to set your data preferences)

Mondaq Ltd requires you to register and provide information that personally identifies you, including your content preferences, for three primary purposes (full details of Mondaq’s use of your personal data can be found in our Privacy and Cookies Notice):

  • To allow you to personalize the Mondaq websites you are visiting to show content ("Content") relevant to your interests.
  • To enable features such as password reminder, news alerts, email a colleague, and linking from Mondaq (and its affiliate sites) to your website.
  • To produce demographic feedback for our content providers ("Contributors") who contribute Content for free for your use.

Mondaq hopes that our registered users will support us in maintaining our free to view business model by consenting to our use of your personal data as described below.

Mondaq has a "free to view" business model. Our services are paid for by Contributors in exchange for Mondaq providing them with access to information about who accesses their content. Once personal data is transferred to our Contributors they become a data controller of this personal data. They use it to measure the response that their articles are receiving, as a form of market research. They may also use it to provide Mondaq users with information about their products and services.

Details of each Contributor to which your personal data will be transferred is clearly stated within the Content that you access. For full details of how this Contributor will use your personal data, you should review the Contributor’s own Privacy Notice.

Please indicate your preference below:

Yes, I am happy to support Mondaq in maintaining its free to view business model by agreeing to allow Mondaq to share my personal data with Contributors whose Content I access
No, I do not want Mondaq to share my personal data with Contributors

Also please let us know whether you are happy to receive communications promoting products and services offered by Mondaq:

Yes, I am happy to received promotional communications from Mondaq
No, please do not send me promotional communications from Mondaq
Terms & Conditions (the Website) is owned and managed by Mondaq Ltd (Mondaq). Mondaq grants you a non-exclusive, revocable licence to access the Website and associated services, such as the Mondaq News Alerts (Services), subject to and in consideration of your compliance with the following terms and conditions of use (Terms). Your use of the Website and/or Services constitutes your agreement to the Terms. Mondaq may terminate your use of the Website and Services if you are in breach of these Terms or if Mondaq decides to terminate the licence granted hereunder for any reason whatsoever.

Use of

To Use you must be: eighteen (18) years old or over; legally capable of entering into binding contracts; and not in any way prohibited by the applicable law to enter into these Terms in the jurisdiction which you are currently located.

You may use the Website as an unregistered user, however, you are required to register as a user if you wish to read the full text of the Content or to receive the Services.

You may not modify, publish, transmit, transfer or sell, reproduce, create derivative works from, distribute, perform, link, display, or in any way exploit any of the Content, in whole or in part, except as expressly permitted in these Terms or with the prior written consent of Mondaq. You may not use electronic or other means to extract details or information from the Content. Nor shall you extract information about users or Contributors in order to offer them any services or products.

In your use of the Website and/or Services you shall: comply with all applicable laws, regulations, directives and legislations which apply to your Use of the Website and/or Services in whatever country you are physically located including without limitation any and all consumer law, export control laws and regulations; provide to us true, correct and accurate information and promptly inform us in the event that any information that you have provided to us changes or becomes inaccurate; notify Mondaq immediately of any circumstances where you have reason to believe that any Intellectual Property Rights or any other rights of any third party may have been infringed; co-operate with reasonable security or other checks or requests for information made by Mondaq from time to time; and at all times be fully liable for the breach of any of these Terms by a third party using your login details to access the Website and/or Services

however, you shall not: do anything likely to impair, interfere with or damage or cause harm or distress to any persons, or the network; do anything that will infringe any Intellectual Property Rights or other rights of Mondaq or any third party; or use the Website, Services and/or Content otherwise than in accordance with these Terms; use any trade marks or service marks of Mondaq or the Contributors, or do anything which may be seen to take unfair advantage of the reputation and goodwill of Mondaq or the Contributors, or the Website, Services and/or Content.

Mondaq reserves the right, in its sole discretion, to take any action that it deems necessary and appropriate in the event it considers that there is a breach or threatened breach of the Terms.

Mondaq’s Rights and Obligations

Unless otherwise expressly set out to the contrary, nothing in these Terms shall serve to transfer from Mondaq to you, any Intellectual Property Rights owned by and/or licensed to Mondaq and all rights, title and interest in and to such Intellectual Property Rights will remain exclusively with Mondaq and/or its licensors.

Mondaq shall use its reasonable endeavours to make the Website and Services available to you at all times, but we cannot guarantee an uninterrupted and fault free service.

Mondaq reserves the right to make changes to the services and/or the Website or part thereof, from time to time, and we may add, remove, modify and/or vary any elements of features and functionalities of the Website or the services.

Mondaq also reserves the right from time to time to monitor your Use of the Website and/or services.


The Content is general information only. It is not intended to constitute legal advice or seek to be the complete and comprehensive statement of the law, nor is it intended to address your specific requirements or provide advice on which reliance should be placed. Mondaq and/or its Contributors and other suppliers make no representations about the suitability of the information contained in the Content for any purpose. All Content provided "as is" without warranty of any kind. Mondaq and/or its Contributors and other suppliers hereby exclude and disclaim all representations, warranties or guarantees with regard to the Content, including all implied warranties and conditions of merchantability, fitness for a particular purpose, title and non-infringement. To the maximum extent permitted by law, Mondaq expressly excludes all representations, warranties, obligations, and liabilities arising out of or in connection with all Content. In no event shall Mondaq and/or its respective suppliers be liable for any special, indirect or consequential damages or any damages whatsoever resulting from loss of use, data or profits, whether in an action of contract, negligence or other tortious action, arising out of or in connection with the use of the Content or performance of Mondaq’s Services.


Mondaq may alter or amend these Terms by amending them on the Website. By continuing to Use the Services and/or the Website after such amendment, you will be deemed to have accepted any amendment to these Terms.

These Terms shall be governed by and construed in accordance with the laws of England and Wales and you irrevocably submit to the exclusive jurisdiction of the courts of England and Wales to settle any dispute which may arise out of or in connection with these Terms. If you live outside the United Kingdom, English law shall apply only to the extent that English law shall not deprive you of any legal protection accorded in accordance with the law of the place where you are habitually resident ("Local Law"). In the event English law deprives you of any legal protection which is accorded to you under Local Law, then these terms shall be governed by Local Law and any dispute or claim arising out of or in connection with these Terms shall be subject to the non-exclusive jurisdiction of the courts where you are habitually resident.

You may print and keep a copy of these Terms, which form the entire agreement between you and Mondaq and supersede any other communications or advertising in respect of the Service and/or the Website.

No delay in exercising or non-exercise by you and/or Mondaq of any of its rights under or in connection with these Terms shall operate as a waiver or release of each of your or Mondaq’s right. Rather, any such waiver or release must be specifically granted in writing signed by the party granting it.

If any part of these Terms is held unenforceable, that part shall be enforced to the maximum extent permissible so as to give effect to the intent of the parties, and the Terms shall continue in full force and effect.

Mondaq shall not incur any liability to you on account of any loss or damage resulting from any delay or failure to perform all or any part of these Terms if such delay or failure is caused, in whole or in part, by events, occurrences, or causes beyond the control of Mondaq. Such events, occurrences or causes will include, without limitation, acts of God, strikes, lockouts, server and network failure, riots, acts of war, earthquakes, fire and explosions.

By clicking Register you state you have read and agree to our Terms and Conditions